Avanti Baronia, Extracurricular Extraordinaire

Avanti Baronia is a senior International Relations major from San Roman, California who is involved in several organizations. She is the Middle Eastern/South Asian Community Week Coordinator at the Cross Cultural Center, president of the Indian Student Association (ISA), and a member of Willow Clinic, a student run clinic that caters to the homeless population of Sacramento.

When asked how her extracirriculars have affected her college experience, she said, “I think the coolest thing about my extracurriculars is how they’ve allowed me to apply what I’ve learned in class to the world outside textbooks and classroom walls. Conversely, my college experiences have also taught me to be critical of what I have been told in class when theories don’t actually work in the real world or are problematic.” She describes the most rewarding part of her involvement as “getting to meet new people and hearing their stories... I think learning from the lessons and narratives of others has been the most definitive way my worldview has been shaped. People as individuals have so much to impart on one another, and I don’t think we take enough advantage of community based learning.”

Through these organizations, she has been part of events aimed at celebrating cultures, promoting unity, and reducing stigmas in the South Asian community. According to Baronia, “any event that is grounded in creating spaces for people to be heard and exchange ideas is important. I’d like to think the events I host or participate in work to that end, but of course it is not enough to hold discussions and workshops (though I think it is a really important first step).

That being said, I’ve been privileged to work with really empowered and knowledgeable people in creating dialogues on social justice, representation, and awareness. Some of the programs I’ve gotten to work on and participate in recently were on the misrepresentation of API (Asian and/or Pacific Islander) and ME/SA (Middle Eastern/South Asian) communities in the media, and the activist origins of ME/SA as a community at UC Davis. But I think the most enlightening event for me personally that I was involved in was one on addressing anti-Blackness in the South Asian community. I think I am particularly grateful to that workshop because I got the opportunity to listen to and learn from people’s first-hand experience with anti-blackness and their own perspectives of it, which was so moving and that much more educating. I hope it was just one of many such conversations surrounding anti-blackness that we will continue to have, and reminded me that activism isn’t always doing, it is also listening.”

She was recently also part of a workshop through ISA to highlight mental health in the South Asian community. She said that mental health is “a conversation we tend to avoid having but really need to address as both individuals and as a collective. I think in order to overcome our battles with mental health, we have to be open to addressing it and acknowledging the realities of it. Maybe the best way to start doing this is to have discussions about the barriers, (cultural, social, or otherwise) that impede our ability to consider mental health to be as important as other kinds of health.”

 She credits her parents and family as being her main source of inspiration and motivation because “They teach me constantly to take pride in the beauty of heritage and the richness of culture. I think a lot of the things I am passionate about were first introduced and developed by them, so I’m really grateful to be able to learn from their example.”

If she could give advice to her younger self, she would say, “Stay strong and don’t give up. If things look like they’re about to go downhill, I think all we can do is help ourselves and help others when we can. Celebrate and hold up community, your own and those of others. And because I really like speaking in clichés, a rising tide lifts all boats (or so I’d like to think), so try practicing concepts like Shine Theory and empathy as soon as and as often as you can!”